Full Position Rankings for All 4 NFC North Teams: Defense

Dec 17, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings defensive tackle Harrison Phillips (97) reacts after making a tackle against the Indianapolis Colts during the fourth quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports.

The 2023 NFL season is right around the corner.

As we prepare for the start of the new season, here is a look at the full position defensive rankings for all four NFC North teams.

Outside Linebacker/EDGE

NFC North
Sep 25, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings linebacker Danielle Hunter (99) looks on before the game against the Detroit Lions at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

1. Green Bay Packers

The Packers have a strong duo at the top of their EDGE group in Rashan Gary and Preston Smith. While Gary was held to just nine games in 2022 due to a torn ACL, he seems to be on track to get back on the field at some point during training camp.

Additionally, the Packers have used some quality draft capital on more pass rushing talent in recent years. Lukas Van Ness has plenty of talent to join the starting lineup right away if Gary isn’t fully ready to go while both Kingsley Enagbare and Quay Walker showed promise last year.

2. Minnesota Vikings

The Vikings may have traded away Za’Darius Smith this spring, but they still remain in the top half of the NFC North in terms of their edge-rushing talent. They managed to keep Danielle Hunter around for the 2023 season after handing him a new one-year contract worth $20 million.

In addition, they replace Smith with Marcus Davenport, who may have only recorded half a sack last season, but his win percentage (17.6%) was 12th-best in the league among EDGE players in 2022. Minnesota also has some promising depth pieces in Andre Carter, Patrick Jones, and Luiji Vilain.

3. Detroit Lions

Aidan Hutchinson’s presence helps carry the Lions to the No. 3 spot after the second overall pick in the 2022 Draft recorded 9.5 sacks and 9 tackles for loss during his rookie season. That being said, James Houston played well for the team in limited snaps.

Over just seven games, the 2022 sixth-round pick recorded 8 sacks and had 7 tackles for loss. He should be a contender to jump into the starting lineup this year, particularly after Charles Harris played just six games last season.

4. Chicago Bears

The Chicago Bears are in the middle of a big rebuild, but they are yet to truly find a long-term solution at EDGE. In 2023, they did not draft a single player at the position, so we will likely see another rotating cast of characters at the spot.

Trevis Gipson, a fifth-round pick in 2020, started 10 games for the Bears last season and recorded 3 sacks. Meanwhile, the team added Rasheem Green during free agency, who put together 5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks for the Houston Texans last year.

Interior Defensive Line

Dec 17, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings defensive tackle Harrison Phillips (97) reacts to a stop during the fourth quarter against the Indianapolis Colts at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

1. Minnesota Vikings

It may be a bit surprising to see Minnesota at the top of this list, especially after the loss of Dalvin Tomlinson in free agency. However, with their veteran leadership in the trenches, it’s tough to put anyone in the division above them at this point.

The Vikings still have Harrison Phillips, who was a consistent producer for them in his first season with the team. Additionally, they stole Dean Lowry from the Packers in free agency, boosting their depth in the trenches while shortening that of their division rival.

Minnesota has a few intriguing young pieces in the trenches as well. Khyiris Tonga was a training camp cut of the Chicago Bears that landed in Minnesota mid-season in 2022, and he surprised many by providing some of the best run defense on the team last year. Keep an eye on fifth-round pick Jaquelin Roy as an interior pass-rusher as well.

2. Green Bay Packers

The Packers are headlined by one of the better defensive tackles in the league, Kenny Clark. Clark has terrorized the NFC North for much of his first seven seasons in the NFL after being selected in the first round of the 2016 Draft. He has a total of 38 tackles for loss and 26.5 sacks in his first seven seasons.

Outside of Clark, though, questions remain on Green Bay’s defensive line. Devonte Wyatt was a promising prospect coming into the 2022 Draft, but he had a very limited impact for the Packers during the season, starting zero games and recording 1.5 sacks. The Packers need to give Clark some more support if they want to have an improved run defense in 2023.

3. Detroit Lions

The Lions have a bunch of young talent on their defensive line, but unfortunately, they haven’t amounted to much yet. Levi Onwuzurike and Alim McNeil were selected early in the 2021 Draft, but Onwuzurike missed the entire 2022 season, and McNeil was given a run defense grade of 59.8 by PFF last year.

Isaiah Buggs started 13 games for the Lions during his first season in Detroit, but he leaves much to be desired in terms of run defense as well. Ultimately, the key to Detroit rising up these ranks will be their two 2021 Draft picks taking big steps forward in 2023.

4. Chicago Bears

The Bears may have punted on the idea of drafting Jalen Carter with the ninth overall pick, opting to trade down to No. 10, but they did make a few intriguing selections that should give them a future on the interior of their defensive line.

Gervon Dexter is the most notable of the selections, who had at least 4 tackles for loss and 2 sacks in each of his final two seasons with the Florida Gators. He should immediately compete for a starting spot. Meanwhile, Zacch Pickens was taken in the third round out of South Carolina, who should be a rotational pass-rushing presence in the middle of the defense.

The veterans on the roster include former Tennessee Titan DeMarcus Walker as well as Andrew Billings, but they need to go a long ways to improve upon what was one of the worst run defenses in the league, allowing 2674 yards.

Off-Ball Linebacker

NFL: New York Jets at Minnesota Vikings
Dec 4, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings linebacker Jordan Hicks (58) reacts after making a stop against the New York Jets during the fourth quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

1. Chicago Bears

The Chicago Bears made a point of getting better at the linebacker position this offseason, and they put their money where their mouth was. The Bears not only inked T.J. Edwards to a three-year contract worth $19.5 million, but they also added Tremaine Edmunds on a four-year, $72 million contract.

These two players combined for 261 tackles, 16 tackles for loss, 3 sacks, 14 passes defended, and an interception during the 2022 season (Edwards was with the Eagles while Edmunds was with the Bills). These two should help the Bears make a big turnaround defensively during the 2023 season.

2. Green Bay Packers

De’Vondre Campbell is one of the most talented off-ball linebackers in the league. He was a first-team All-Pro player in 2021, and he followed that season up with 96 tackles, 6 tackles for loss, 3 passes defended, and a pair of interceptions over 13 games in 2022.

However, Green Bay could be considered thin at the linebacker spot behind Campbell. We need to see further growth from players like Quay Walker and Isaiah McDuffie before crowning them as the cream of the crop.

3. Minnesota Vikings

The Vikings have a ton of potential at their linebacker position, but we haven’t seen enough of the group yet to justify a high ranking on this list. However, we can assume that Jordan Hicks should be better in a blitz-heavy Brian Flores defense after recording just 17 blitzes during the 2022 season.

Meanwhile, Brian Asamoah and Ivan Pace seem to be impressing to this point in camp, with Pace actually earning reps with the starting defense. The talents of these two players will likely determine how much success the Vikings LB group can have in 2023.

4. Detroit Lions

Like the Vikings, the Detroit Lions have plenty of potential for growth at their linebacker position this season. Malcolm Rodriguez burst onto the scene as a sixth-round pick last year, and he started 15 games for Detroit in 2022.

Additionally, the Lions are hoping that Jack Campbell can live up to his status as the 18th overall pick in this spring’s draft. Campbell was a very physical linebacker during his time at Iowa, capable of making an impact as a run-stopper, pass-rusher, and in coverage. His immediate impact on the team will determine if Detroit can rise up this list throughout the season.


Can Brian Flores Unlock the Vikings Cornerbacks?
Oct 16, 2022; Miami Gardens, Florida, USA; Minnesota Vikings cornerback Akayleb Evans (21) after a game against the Miami Dolphins at Hard Rock Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rich Storry-USA TODAY Sports

1. Green Bay Packers

The Packers need Rasul Douglas to return to his 2021 form in order to truly secure themselves at the top of the division this year. Douglas allowed receptions on just 32 of 63 targets during 2021, and he secured five interceptions throughout the year.

However, Jaire Alexander is still a star when he’s healthy. After an injury-riddled 2021 campaign, he came back in 2022 and was once again a Pro Bowl selection and second-team All-Pro. Behind this duo, Green Bay also has a promising player in Eric Stokes, who is set to enter his third season in the NFL.

2. Detroit Lions

After having one of the worst pass defenses in the NFL during 2022, the Detroit Lions made a concerted effort to improve in this area. They brought in CBs Cam Sutton and Emmanuel Moseley to hold down the secondary, but as a result, they were forced to trade former third overall pick Jeff Okudah.

Regardless, Detroit looks vastly improved at the CB position, and if they want to compete for an NFC North title this year, they will need this group to lead the way on the defensive side of the ball.

3. Chicago Bears

This is where we start to get into the unknowns of the division. Kyler Gordon played rather well during his rookie season of 2022, and Chicago gave him a potential running mate in Tyrique Stevenson during the third round of the 2023 Draft.

Additionally, veteran Jaylon Johnson is coming off his best NFL season, and with his contract set to expire at the end of the year, he will be looking to earn a big pay day next March.

4. Minnesota Vikings

The Vikings come in at the bottom for one reason: they are a complete mystery at the CB position right now. Minnesota brought in Byron Murphy to be the veteran leader, but they also let go of Cam Dantzler, Patrick Peterson, Duke Shelley, and Chandon Sullivan.

Each of these players made at least five starts during 2022, and now, it will be up to Akayleb Evans, Andrew Booth, Mekhi Blackmon, and Joejuan Williams to fill that void during the 2023 season.


NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Minnesota Vikings
Dec 9, 2021; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings safety Harrison Smith (22) celebrates a sack during the second quarter against the Pittsburgh Steelers at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

1. Minnesota Vikings

Obviously, the Vikings still employ Harrison Smith, giving them a veteran talent at the position to lead the group. However, behind Smith, Minnesota has some absolutely fabulous safety depth. Cam Bynum played 100% of the Vikings defensive snaps last year while Josh Metellus is looking to increase his role on defense as well.

We haven’t even discussed 2022 first-round pick Lewis Cine, either. Of course, his rookie season was cut short by a leg fracture, but this past weekend against the Tennessee Titans, he was one of the bright spots for Minnesota’s group. Rookie Jay Ward should be around this fall as well, giving Minnesota a solid five players at safety.

2. Detroit Lions

The Lions got an absolute steal in the second round of the 2023 Draft when they landed Brian Branch. Branch is a physical tackler and capable of playing all over an NFL defense. The year prior, Detroit also drafted Kerby Joseph who had a fantastic 2022 season that included 4 interceptions.

Assuming Branch is ready to start, they have a great duo ready to go at that safety spot, and veteran Tracy Walker can be a very overqualified rotational piece while Ifeatu Melifonwu continues to make progress at the NFL level.

3. Green Bay Packers

Darnell Savage had a very strong 2020 season, but since then he hasn’t quite been able to recapture that magic for the Packers. Regardless, he is a quality starter at the position, and this spring, Green Bay brought in Jonathan Owens who started all 17 games for the Houston Texans last season.

Rudy Ford had six starts for the Packers in 2022, and he recorded 3 interceptions over the course of the season, giving Green Bay another solid option at the position. Behind Ford, though, Green Bay doesn’t have much proven talent at safety, landing them in third.

4. Chicago Bears

During his rookie season of 2022, Jaquan Brisker burst onto the scene for the Bears with 5 tackles for loss, 4 sacks, a forced fumble, and an interception. Brisker is a do-it-all player in the secondary, similarly to Branch in Detroit, and he should be poised to take a big step forward in Year 2 given all the linebacker talent acquired by Chicago this offseason that will take some of the heat off him.

Eddie Jackson also put together 4 interceptions in 2022, giving the Bears a very intriguing duo between the youngster and the veteran. However, like Green Bay, there isn’t much depth for Chicago at the position. Seventh-round picks Elijah Hicks and Kendall Williamson are probably the favorites to make the roster right now, so it will be interesting to see what these players can give the Bears in 2023.

NOTE: This article originally appeared on our sister-site, PurplePTSD.com

Josh Frey is a Class of 2020 graduate of The College of Idaho and managing editor of PurplePTSD.com. When he’s not writing about the NFL, Josh enjoys running, gaming, or rooting for the Milwaukee Brewers and Bucks. Check out his Twitter account: @Freyed_Chicken.